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Stephen King, It

A novel by Stephen King

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That's IT

  • Nov 30, 2009
In the 1980's Stephen King was shaping up to be a huge force to be reckoned with.  There was one book, however, that seemed to define him more so than any other.  While King has written many books better than IT, the 1986 masterpiece seems to be what best defines King as a horror writer.  Imagine, if you will, that you put all your worst fears into one book and perhaps that's the best way to describe Stephen King's IT.  What you have is a huge sprawling epic.  It is among King's longest works and it is one everyone should try to read at least once.  It isn't as breathtaking as The Stand or as haunting as The Shining but it is remarkable nonetheless. 

One of King's common themes during the 80's was primarily to write about children or teenagers.  A common theme that King has tackled time and time again (or rather a theme he used to tackle time and time again) was the difference between adults and children.  How children act and behave (and how they often know more than we think they do) and ho they grow into adults.  IT is a novel which brings that theme to new light.  At the time of its publication it was considered King's Magnum Opus.  And why wouldn't anyone think so then?  It was over 1000 pages long (the extended version of The Stand hadn't hit bookstores at the time of IT's publication) and centered on seven characters.  King knew he was writing an epic.  A tale in which children go from being kids to being adults. 

IT centers on the small town of Derry, Maine.  In 1985 an evil has returned.  An evil that doesn't really have a name.  We know him as Pennywise, but no one really knows just what Pennywise is.  Hence he can only be referred to as IT.  Seven adults, who made a pact when they were kids, must now return to Derry, Maine to do battle once more with an evil they once faced as children in 1958.  As kids they defeated Pennywise once and knew that one day IT would be back.  When IT returns it's time to get back together and destroy this evil once and for all.  

IT has a very simple story and a very simple premise.  There's a reason the book is an epic.  We are essentially reading two stories.  There is, first and foremost, the story of how they defeated Pennyise as children.  This happens to be a more intersting story than the following story where they are adults.  The story of them defeating Pennywise again as adults is the other story.  And with seven characters you can expect that you're in for a pretty slow story.  This isn't unusual for Stephen King who often writes slow paced books.  This comes from King's drive to really develop his characters and get you to know them before completely diving into the story.  It's not the first time that King has dealt with a large cast of characters.  He did so before in The Stand and even in a much shorter novel--Salem's Lot.  Yet because of how we are getting to know these characters King puts in more details.  We are seeing these characters as children AND adults... and that's what makes the biggest difference here.  We have to get to know our characters as kids... as well as seeing how they all came to meet one another and get to know one another.  Then we must see as they reunite as adults and we then have to learn how their lives have changed.  It isn't really a complex narrative in any way.  It's just a huge narrative because we are dealing with so many characters.  Aside from our seven characters you've also got a hefty dose of supporting characters as well as learning about the small town of Derry, Maine.  Simply put, those 1000 pages aren't entirely inflated.

At the very least, as usual, it isn't really a tough read.  King doesn't use complex words or anything like that.  However, you are getting a fairly slow paced book.  You didn't actually expect it to be a fast book, did you?  It doesn't waste time really jumping into things, but IT probably shows more so than many other books King's shortcomings as a writer.  The man definitely knows how to crack a story and write.  There's no denying that.  However, with IT you are getting a few moments where King will go on for descriptions for quite some time.  Here you're even get a subplot with an abusive husband that doesn't really go anywhere.  It's a great book--an epic narrative that spans nearly thirty years.  However, it's hard to get beyond the fact that in some moments King just won't buckle down and get to the point.  If there was ever a book where perhaps we get a little too much backstory, this one might be it.  You don't get the feeling he's trying too hard.  You just get the feeling that perhaps he just got lost in his own passion.  In short... it might've been nice if an editor came along and said, "Maybe you should cut out some of this stuff."  Indeed, perhaps he should've.  There's not a whole lot of time wasted, just a lot of time where the story just sort of drags for a bit when you wished it would get moving. 

King has alays had pacing problems, but in many instances his longer works actually DON'T suffer too much from pacing problems.  The Stand, for instance may seem slow paced but King isn't dragging out a lot of backstory or carrying on with a lot of needless details--and the extended, uncut edition is much longer.  The same goes for books like Desperation.  It jumps right into things, despite that it might not be incredibly fast.  The Shining is the best example, as that really IS a slow book... but once more... no detail is wasted.  

You just might find yourself flying through IT with ease, however.  It's long winded and it's a little slow but at least most of it is interesting.  You just get the feeling that perhaps some moments are dragging.  The book is lengthy.  So yes, SOME of it seems inflated, but even if King had done more to deflate it, you still would've gotten a really long book either way.  But this is precisely why you wouldn't want some parts to drag.  It's an easy book to read, but make no mistake... IT is long.  There's not doubt it may be one of King's finest works.  It is certainly one of the most enticing stories he's ever written.  From the standpoint of just being a story and from a thematic standpoint as well.  You might even find yourself scared.  Many fans claim IT to be one of King's scariest books.  It just might be, but the fear bone is located in different places on different people.  

So while the story itself is very interesting... you're still going to need patience.  The read is definitely worth undertaking.  Any King fan should give it a whirl.  It just requires some patience to do so. 

One thing that I should point out, however.  Many people seem to be very focused on Pennywise being a clown.  And it's true, he does spend some time as a clown in the book, but Pennywise isn't just a clown.  He's just about every monster you can think of rolled into one.  A lot of people enjoy focusing on just the clown part (and indeed far too many people like to use King's book as some sort of excuse as to why they now have a phobia of clowns) without realizing that Pennywise is something greater. 

The movie was adapted into a mini-series in 1990 with Tim Curry as Pennywise.  As you might expect there's a lot that just didn't make it into the film.  That's always the standard... especially when you're dealing with a 1000 page epic.  A remake has already been confirmed, though no one really knows when that's coming.  Needless to say... the novel has left quite a big legacy behind it.  As one of King's biggest and most ambitious works it should.  The story in and of itself is just good and desite the minor pacing problems and King's ability to drag on with certain storylines from time to time, the book still manages to be one of the best he's ever done.

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December 02, 2009
Never read the book, but I have yet to finish the mini-series. excellent review.
More It (book) reviews
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Possibly Stephen King's (long-winded) best. There are a lot of really great scenes, and the way he shifts between the two more or less separate narratives works really well.
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
One of my favorite King novels; gave me nightmares for weeks!
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
One of King's longer books, yet worth it. Adults haunted by their past when, as children, they fought a monster that has reawakened after all these years. A frightening look at what it means to be a child, fighting the fears that are more real than adults ever see... and then to be the adults who have to finish off the monsters once and for all...
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
So very fascinating as half the book you spend trying figure out the mystery, and the other half going with the kids, trying to figure out how they're going to get out of it.
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
usual stephen king..if you like him, its great
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
So good. Reminds me of everything about my childhood, and about the power of innocence. Beautiful and nightmarish - prepare to be afraid of storm drains for the rest of your life.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
soo scary! i had nightmares forever
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
great book
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
excellent book
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book



ISBN-10: 0451169514 (pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780451169518 (pbk.)
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Signet
Date Published: August 7, 1987
Format: mass market pbk.
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